Chinese labor laws buckle as economy darkens

Tue Jan 27, 2009 9:02pm EST
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By James Pomfret

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - As China's economic storm clouds darken and more firms face bankruptcy, factory workers such as Xiang Yongheng have seen their confidence badly shaken in authorities who are supposed to protect their labor rights.

Beaten by thugs last week after demanding three months of unpaid wages from his bosses at the "Yi Fan" food processing factory in Shenzhen's Longgang district, Xiang appealed to the local labor bureau and police for help, but to no avail.

"They just said we can't help you. The authorities are trying to suppress my case, I even took evidence to them but they ignored it and just told me to go away," said the 25-year-old.

The enactment of the labor contract law last year marked a new milestone in the push to safeguard workers' rights -- particularly the 130 million or so migrant workers powering China's export engine -- making it tougher for bosses to fire staff, while boosting social security and severance payouts.

While factory owners decried the laws as a crippling cost burden, workers hailed the new legislation -- which unleashed a flood of arbitration and labor dispute cases in migrant-heavy manufacturing hubs such as Guangdong's Pearl River Delta.

Now though, Xiang and many others are becoming disillusioned by officials who turn a blind eye to routine violations in order to ease the burden on stricken businesses during the downturn.


"From what I've seen, workers' justice hasn't changed for the better. Like what's happening here, we don't sign contracts, nor are things settled using the labor contract law," Xiang said.   Continued...

<p>Twenty-five-year-old Xiang Yongheng poses beside his hanging shirt inside a four-metre room with a monthly rent of $12 in Shenzhen's Longgang district, Guangzhou province, southern China January 23, 2009. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>